Minnesota Sounds and Voices: Preserving Chaska's Seminary Fen

Seminary Fen
Department of Natural Resources ecologist Hannah Texler and regional management specialist Russell Smith walk through Seminary Fen outside of Chanhassen, Minn. Monday, Oct. 24, 2011. Named for a seminary that used to sit on the property, the Scientific and Natural Area is a calcareous fen, the rarest type of wetland.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Seminary Fen, on the edge of the Twin Cities, with its prairie sedge, swamp thistle, goldenrod and marsh marigolds, has had its share of threats. More than a century ago, Shakopee's Mudcura Sanitarium scooped its mud for spa baths. At other times, farmers tried to drain the wetland, to make way for more arable land.

But like the tiny stream that feeds it, the Seminary Fen survives. And one October afternoon, Russell Smith from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources led the way on a bushwhack walk to offer a MPR News reporter a glimpse into the protected, ecological gem near Chaska.

"It's a little tricky getting out here," he says, even though summer's jungle-like maze of reed grass, and blooming native orchids and asters are long gone. "You can't even see where you are walking."

There's no doubt where the fen begins, though. Underfoot, one can feel a patch of springy, mattress-like grass. "Sometimes that's what we do to try figure out if we're in a fen or not: We bounce up and down."

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Another DNR specialist, Hannah Texler, looks down at another piece of fen evidence, a very clear little stream. "You can see watercress growing in it," she says of the cold, clear water that feeds nearby Assumption Creek, a former haven for native brook trout. But the disappearance of the trout offers just one clue that Seminary Fen, and other wetlands like it, continue to be threatened by development.

"We're still trying to figure out exactly why the trout aren't here and if they might come back, or if we might be able to restock them," Trexler says of the living biological classroom. She calls the trout a marker for how the health of the rest of the planet is doing.

"Places like this, natural areas with rare plants in them and a lot of wildlife are indicators of ecosystem health," Trexler says. "If we lose all of those, we start to lose healthy places for humans to live."



To listen to this latest edition of reporter Dan Olson's "Minnesota Sounds and Voices," click on the audio link, above.

To learn more about fens, visit the Department of Natural Resources, or the Environmental Protection Agency.